Category: Mission of Hope and my Orphan’s Hope Project

OHP Trip #6 – I’m home

June 3, 2013
Got back last night, late around 11pm when we finally walked in the door. Due to flight delays and my bag not arriving with me, we were at the airport a real, long time.

My bag is supposed to be delivered today and I hope it gets here soon. All of my paperwork and notes regarding the children and facilities is in there! I have a mountain of paperwork and communication to get started on.

I’m happy that we accomplished a number of things on this trip but as always, there is more work to be done. Some new ideas and some new people will continue to allow the Orphan’s Hope Project to find ways to help the children. And me? I get to keep my memories of their hugs and their smiles close to my heart, until next time.

So back to the real world, back to work but boy, that long hot shower last night really felt good.

Thanks for all your support.

OHP Trip #6 June 1, 2013 – Day Four

Day 4 June 1 –

Sr. Debbie had a jam packed day planned and our first meeting this morning was in Managua at 8am. We met there with Johanna Pedroni who, along with her husband, has started a foundation that is building a Women’s Clinic and Training center in an old hotel in the heart of Managua. Johanna is one of those women that impress you as soon as you meet her. Friendly, vivacious and intelligent, I knew I was in the presence of someone who gets things done. My kind of lady.

We toured the old hotel, first viewing the parts that have been partially renovated and then the second part, which had not. To see what they had already done, from the shell of an abandoned building was impressive. She was excited to show us the rooms for the clinic waiting room, the doctor’s examination, gynecological examination, physical therapy and nurses training room. The Mission of Hope had donated the hospital beds and painted a few of the rooms, and they were planning to paint more on the next mission in July. James was here to assess the supplies and work effort needed.

Juan Pablo II BEFORE

Juan Pablo II BEFORE

Juan Pablo II - AFTER

Juan Pablo II – AFTER

But it was great to be able to see this success story unfolding. Johanna and her husband owned a successful, upscale restaurant – the restaurant we had eaten in on Thursday evening – and are in the upper echelon of Managuan society. They are both movers and shakers in the city and have an impressive and powerful group of friends and acquaintances that are instrumental in helping the dream of the foundation unfold. They are true examples of how those that have, help pay it forward for those who have not.

Johanna then explained their plans for the training center, specifically to help poor women learn skills so they can support themselves and their families. They plan to offer courses in learning Computer Training, Home Health Aid, Seamstress, Accounting and Ophthalmology assistants and Paint Contractor. This last, something they are just about to start, will teach women how to measure a room, decide on the best paints for the materials and spec out how to get the job done. This sounded like a very practical skill that a woman could assuredly earn a living doing.

Johanna Pedroni at Juan Pablo II

Johanna Pedroni at Juan Pablo II

While Johanna is talking, my mind immediately thinks of my girls at El Crucero, specifically the 6 or 7 teenagers who will be graduating high school in the next few years. While I still intend to encourage their attendance in University, and offer financial help from the OHP, from a practical perspective, this will not be the right option for every girl. I have been frustrated at the lack of skills training currently being provided and my inquiries have been met with vague, unsatisfactory answers from Madre as to her plans for the girls. So why not offer skills training to the girls at this facility?

And that’s just what I asked Johanna. She knew that I worked with the orphans and was immediately receptive to the idea. In fact, her eyes lit up and a she was already smiling and nodding before I finished speaking. We agreed that I will contact Madre with the beginnings of this idea and put her in touch with Johanna. Of course there will be challenges – not all skills can be taught to girls under 18 and for those still in school, school must come first. But with some perseverance and creative thinking, this could be a reality. I saw this as the door being opened to my dream of providing my girls with a mechanism to earn a living. No, what I really mean is having a career performing a skill that they are trained for, proficient at and proud of. This is the next step up for them and something I am passionate about so I’m puttin’ it out there in the universe and will do whatever I can to make it a reality.

Johanna and I hugged, and then we hugged again and I said I would contact her very soon. This will be the first order of business when I return home to the U.S.

Next, a quick stop to the masonary store to check on options for stone benches for the planned Memorial Garden to be built in the back of the NiCasa property. I can see this area this from my bedroom door and right in the center is a beautiful, large shade tree that just calls out for a bench and a birdbath. It will be dedicated in honor of past Missioners who have died.

Shopping for a memorial bench

Shopping for a memorial bench

We drove to a barrio called Cedro Galan. A barrio is a poor village and a frequent stop on any mission visit to Nicaragua. It is here that people live in huts and cobbled together structures made of left over metal, tree limbs and garbage bags. The lucky ones have a home shelter, built by MoH that consists of a 10’ x 13’ single, dirt floor room with a roof and open doorway. My daughter Vanessa and I had helped to construct two on our first trip to Nicaragua in 2010.

These areas are extremely poor. The children run barefoot through the dirt, deftly dodging broken glass, shredded metal, garbage and other dangers. I shudder to think of the disease that is ever present. Trees and overgrown bushes fill in the spaces between the dwellings. Clothes are hanging on barbed wire, malnourished dogs are everywhere. Once we saw a giant pig tied up to a tree. The women in these barrios look beaten and tired and alone. Men are not as evident, leading me to believe that most of these women are alone in raising their children in this inhospitable place.

And yet, they make their homes here. Some of the children go to school, but some do not. But the children play with each other and run in packs like little wild things as their laughter rings through the air. They sound no different than other children the world over, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.

We were here to give handmade quilts donated by a woman who is helping a young widow and her son. This donor had previously paid for the construction of a home shelter for this young mother and had asked Sr. Debbie to deliver the quilts to her on this visit. The mother came out to meet us holding her young son Brandon, about 16 months old, in her arms. She was followed by several other children who she told us were her niece and nephews plus her elderly aunt. While Fabricio translated, Sr. Debbie made the presentation in a distinguished and sensitive manner and the mother’s shy but hesitant smile was nice to see. Sr. Debbie then gave quilts to the other children and the aunt, who seemed thrilled with the beautiful gift. In this type of extreme poverty, these quilts are a treasure.

Donated quilts

Donated quilts

A quilt for a little girl

A quilt for a little girl

Stop number 4 – and all before lunch – was to the Guadalupe clinic and a meeting with Berta Amalia. Berta, a poor woman in her 60’s, has made it her life’s work to help this medical clinic function in the center of Managua. They provide medicines and doctor care to the many impoverished people in the city. The Mission of Hope has been helping the clinic for a number of years. But we were here to talk about another project instead.

A donor had recently given the Mission of Hope a substantial amount of money to be used to help poor women in Nicaragua. 8 women were chosen to receive the funds, and they in turn were charged with helping 10 other poor women. The 8 women who are administering the funds were free to select 10 women of their choice who were in dire need. The donor has asked for details on the women being chosen and Fabricio, has been assigned the task of collecting the information; pictures, bios on both the women administrators and those receiving the funds. This meeting was to introduce Berta to Fabricio so that they could continue the partnership and move the project forward.

Sr. Debbie, James and I watched as Fabricio, 22, took over, speaking with Berta in a mature and respectful manner about how they would communicate, what information was needed and in what format and exchanging contact information. We were all very gratified to see this excellent example of empowerment that effectively put the responsibility of the success of this project on these two people who live here. Just what the Mission is striving to accomplish.

Empowerment in Action

Empowerment in Action

Finally, lunch time. And guess where? Yep, Tip Top. Sr. Debbie just didn’t want to eat anywhere else. At least the chicken is good although I don’t want to see another piece of fried chicken for a while.

After lunch we visited a local Chiqulistagua school where the Mission had helped to plant and fund a garden then on to San Antonio school in yet another barrio. The Mission will help paint a few rooms on this upcoming July mission trip and again, James need to access the situation while I took pictures.

San Antonio School front

San Antonio School front

San Antonio school

San Antonio school

This school was poor and old and dirty but children are being educated here. With help, it could be made into a nicer environment, which is what the Mission is trying to do. Across the dirt road was a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. We encountered a man – Victor – who was burning brush to fight slugs in the field before planting a crop of papaya.

Working the fields

Working the fields

Our final stop of the day was to meet a young girl and her mother. She is a beautiful young girl, 7 years old, with blond hair, blue eyes and very fair – unusual for a Nicaraguan. She reminded me of my own daughters who looked similar at her age and Mauricio even commented that this little girl could have been my daughter. She was very proud to show us her report card with excellent grades.

Excellent grades

Excellent grades

About 2 months ago, Laura (not her real name) was raped by a 16 year old neighbor. Pause, full stop. Yes, she is 7. Her mother had moved her and her older sister and brother to a rented home to be safe from the neighbor who was threatening to harm her and burn down their house if they prosecuted him for the rape. They are renting a small home but the mother has recently lost her job as an accounting assistant and she is desperately trying to plan her next move. We were there to give her clothes donated by the Mission and also money to help them for the immediate future.

While Sr. Debbie, Mauricio and Fabricio talked with the mother about what could be done to help, I intentionally pulled Laura to the side so she would not overhear the conversation. She was a charming and sweet little girl, smiling and laughing, never giving any indication of the trauma she has suffered. She showed me her guinea pig Lolitta, then we went outside so she could show me her cartwheels. It took all my self control not to wrap my arms around this child and cry. She looked so much like my girls at that age and my mind was screaming – how could someone harm such a beautiful little girl?

It was time to leave but with no clear resolution in site, we said our goodbyes with heavy hearts. As we drove away, we discussed various options and I said, more than anything we need to help this mom get a job. There are some contacts here that may be able to help and Sr. Debbie is going to make some calls to see if something can be done.

The Mission of Hope is planning to build a Safe House in the next several years for women and children that are in exactly this type of situation. It is still in the planning stages and cannot help Laura and her family now, something we were all acutely aware of.

Back to NiCasa. Sr. Debbie and the others had meetings but I had some down time to process, unwind and work on the pictures I had been taking over the last few days. At about 5pm, we left for dinner but first a quick stop at Juan Pablo to pick up paperwork promised by Madre and Sor Carmen regarding the new children at El Crucero.

I really hate going to Juan Pablo. It is about as depressing as it gets. While there are much fewer children there now, it is still miserably hot and stuffy, and right in the middle of one of the worst areas of Managua. The front doors are locked behind a steel gate and on either side are low lifes and unsavory characters. Not a place where small children should live. Nor the sisters who are charged with caring for them.

It is being run mainly as a day care center now so there are only a few children who stay overnight. We saw three children on this visit, two new babies and Angel, a 6 year old that I knew from previous visits. As a matter of fact, my daughter Vanessa and I had met him on our first fateful visit here in 2010 when I decided to start the Orphan’s Hope Project. Angel has brain damage from living with his mother on the streets as an infant and cannot communicate. Instead, he screams. Which he did tonight when I said hello and at every other opportunity. Madre and I had spoken about him and she told me he is undergoing treatment and may be adopted. I so hope this can happen and that someone will give him a loving home where he can grow to his fullest potential.

The other two babies were a little girl, about 2, named June who trotted right up to Sr. Debbie and James and launched herself into their arms and a 9 month old boy named Osmani. While the young Sister Suzanne (she looked like she was 19) filled out the rest of the paperwork I was there to pick up, I held Osmani and James held June. When we started to leave, June threw an all-out temper tantrum screaming that she wanted to go with James. It was heartbreaking.

It’s been a good trip and in hindsight, I am pleased at what we have been able to help with. In addition to the gifts and school supplies I brought with me, the donations I received from sponsors and supporters will help pay for major dental work for Sor Andrea at El Crucero (since she is taking care of my kids so well in the library, we need to take care of her), new screens and windows at San Fernando (without either mosquitoes and bugs are ever present and so is the risk of dengue fever), food for the children there, translator help and of course, ice cream for the little ones. Yep, I’d say a damn good use of the money entrusted to me.

Today was an exhausting day and mentally I’m whipped. I’m glad to be going home tomorrow. I miss my husband, my family and my puppies Gwena and Sage. It’s been an eye opening trip. I feel progress was made for the OHP which is always my intention but I also learned a lot about other ways that the Mission is helping here with the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua. The focus is shifting to empowerment and I am in complete agreement with this. People must learn to help themselves or any positive changes will not be sustainable. It will take time, it will take cultural changes, but you know the old saying – if you give a man a fish, they will eat for a day. But if you teach a man or a woman to fish, they can feed their families for the rest of their lives. Hopefully, our collective efforts will accomplish just that.

Mission Team 50A

Mission Team 50A

OHP Trip #6 May 2013 – Day Three

Day 3 – San Fernando May 31, 2013

We left a bright and early 7:30am for our long trip to San Fernando. I had gotten up extra early hoping to Skype with Vince but the internet that worked so great the night before was down again due to the torrential rain. Mauricio and Fabricio arrived, we packed up all of the things we had to bring with us and got on our way. In addition to the toys and other gifts for the children I had purchased with OHP donations and brought with me, I was happy when Sr. Debbie suggested that we also bring 2 boxes of school supplies that they had in the storage building. These extra supplies, shipped down in the 2 or 3 containers sent each year by the Mission of Hope from Plattsburgh contain a variety of materials – all well needed here in Nicaragua. In addition to the school supplies, they have sent hospital beds and equipment, furniture, computers, refrigerators and even a full dental office of equipment. All of this is donated to the Mission of Hope. It is really wonderful that these items, which would become waste in our landfills in the U.S., can be put to such good use here. It’s a testament to the hard work of the many volunteers that coordinate, pack, record and ship these containers for the Mission. Each container is about the size of a tractor trailer.

After driving through the city of Managua, we turned onto the Pan American highway, Route 1, that starts in Mexico and ends in South America. Luckily we weren’t traveling the full length but we did have a ways to go. We passed the time talking, eating the snacks we had brought with us and I did some computer work on the numerous pictures that I had been taking. Interspersed throughout the trip was a frequent “Oh My God!” from Sr. Debbie in the front seat whenever another driver was too aggressive or the road was too windy. We teased her unmercifully for this.

I really enjoy looking at the countryside on this drive north. An hour out of Managua, the landscape changes to a mountainous and lush countryside. Along the highway, houses of all shapes and sizes ranging from small, simple one room structures with clothes hanging on the line to more expansive brick homes with landscaped front yards. We passed horses, cattle and a few goats and pigs all tended by men walking them along the road to pasture. We also passed rice paddies, which we were surprised to see. Another crop, along with beef and coffee, that Nicaragua produces and exports.

We stopped in a small city named Cevaco, for a pit stop. Fabricio knew that I wanted to bring fresh fruits and vegetables up to the orphanage and suggested that we purchase them at the local market there. The abundance of beautiful produce was impressive. Vendors were lined up side by side with heaping piles of tomatoes, huge carrots, onions, potatoes and numerous fruits – pineapple, melon, mango, wauva, calala, starfruit and papaya. I hadn’t changed any of my US dollars to Nicaraguan Cordoba but have come to find out that most places will accept American cash. 8 bags of fruit and vegetables later, all for $10, we were on our way.

Fruit and Vegetable Market in Cevaco

Fruit and Vegetable Market in Cevaco

Choosing tomatoes

Choosing tomatoes

James, who hates having his picture taken, took one of himself so I thought I’d share. James could give lessons on being agreeable and he always carried the bags!

Agreeable James

Agreeable James

Two hours later, we were in Ocatal, a very northern city and where we made the right hand turn off the highway to head towards San Fernando. We stopped in this city to purchase more food for the orphanage – chicken, milk, eggs, diapers, baby formula and cereal. We had hoped to find a place to eat lunch – Sr. Debbie was insisting again on Tip Top, the fast food chicken place as this is the only place she is comfortable eating at – but we didn’t find anything. We snacked on more junk food and were back on the road for the remaining 30 minute drive. At this point, we had been in the car for over 5 hours.

Last year on this trip, we had crossed a very narrow, small bridge that spanned a gorge, about 20’ deep. Mauricio and Fabricio had been telling Sr. Debbie about this for days, trying hard to scare her and they had succeeded. Every time we crossed a bridge, of any size, Sr. Debbie asked “is this it?” We finally arrived at the single lane bridge, just as narrow and intimidating as last year. As we approached, a school bus was barreling down the road in the other direction. Sr. Debbie took one look at the bridge, then at the school bus and screamed “OH MY GOD! Mauricio!!” which we all found pretty hilarious. Then Mauricio even stopped on the bridge to further prolong the event, Sr. Debbie screaming all the while.

OH MY GOD!  We are going over that bridge!

OH MY GOD! We are going over that bridge!

We finally, finally arrived at San Fernando. Sor Delia, So Daisy and all the children greeted us with big smiles and then sang a song of thanksgiving as they had just finished their lunch. There are 15 children here now, ages 15 months to 15 years. We brought in all of the food, gifts and supplies and it wasn’t long before we spread out all the gifts for the children to choose from. They were all laughing and smiling as everyone got to select whatever they wanted and I was glad we had plenty to go around.

Giving gifts

Giving gifts

I turned to see Sor Delia blowing bubbles for the smaller children as they squealed with laughter and then wanted to try for themselves. She has a wonderful way with the children, loving, kind and playful. The obviously love her in return as they surround her and the smallest ones grab the skirt of her white habit. With all of these little grubby hands, I don’t how she keeps it white.

Sor Delia playing with Osmani

Sor Delia playing with Osmani

Although several children had left, I saw a few that I knew – two girls especially that had previously been at El Crucero. Xiomara, the oldest remembered me and I her as she came to greet me. Next was Katherine, a 12 year old who is troubled and has had a terrible childhood. She had been lashing out and aggressive with the other children at El Crucero so the decision was made to send her north where she might do better in a new environment. It seemed to be working as she had a smile on her face – something I rarely saw when I had seen her previously – and she came to me for a hug. I asked if she remembered me and she said yes and hugged me again. When talking with Sor Delia a little later, I asked about her and was told that she is doing well in school, is not as aggressive and has made friends at school and with the other girls at the orphanage. I was very, very pleased to hear this. This young girl needs some goodness in her life. When Sor Delia told me that her and Sor Daisy, the young nun who also lived there and helped with the children, did their homework with them, celebrated each child’s birthday and ate at a communal table, I believed this would go a long way to bringing Katherine, as well as the other children some family normalcy as much as was possible given their environment.

Me and Katherine

Me and Katherine

It was hot and very humid at the facility and outside we were besieged by little bugs that were happily chewing on my legs and feet. It was very distracting trying to talk to Sor Delia while slapping and swatting at myself.

Meeting at San Fernando

Meeting at San Fernando

I was disappointed to see the facility hadn’t changed since the previous year. All rooms were neat but in need of repair with broken bricks in much of the floor and a number of broken doors. They didn’t have a working refrigerator only a deep freezer with not much food in it. Spare furniture – only a few tables and chairs, a very primitive kitchen with a two burner propane stovetop and no oven. They used a wood burning fireplace to cook large pots. Sor Delia told us that someone was donating a full size stove which was good to hear. The dorm rooms were also neat but the bathroom, such as it was, was very basic and lacked a toilet seat. They did have running water and electricity however which was a plus.

Sor Daisy and Osmani

Sor Daisy and Osmani

We have been sending OHP funds since last year and I had hoped for more. As we spoke with Sor Delia, we were told that the monies were not being sent to her directly as we had expected but instead were being handled by El Crucero. We all agreed that the monies would be better utilized if Sor Delia made decisions on what to buy rather than having supplies sent to her. She would also have access to the funds if an emergency arose. We kindly but firmly told her that from now on, the monies would be sent to her monthly via Western Union which she happily agreed to.

While we were meeting with Sor Delia, James had been taking pictures to show MoH leadership. We all agreed that we wanted to do more to help. Sor Delia said that she wanted to have screens put on all windows to keep bugs, and in particular, mosquitoes out. She is still recovering from Dengue fever and is concerned for the children’s health as well. The total cost for this is $2400, of which she had already raised $1100. Conferring among ourselves, we agreed that we had OHP and other funds that could finance the balance. Sor Delia was delighted and her smile was radiant. She also said she would like a ceiling put in as the single roof doesn’t keep the cold or heat out. We asked her to speak directly with Mauricio for this and other improvement projects and we would help where we were able.

As planned, we wanted to buy ice cream for all the children and they were waiting. While we continued to play with the children, Sr. Debbie and Mauricio went to buy some and when they returned, the children squealed with delight. Sor Delia said “what do you say? – just like a mother would remind her own children and they screamed “Gracias!”. Then she said “in English?” and they shouted “Thank you”. I loved that she was making this effort with them.

The children and Sisters at San Fernando

The children and Sisters at San Fernando

After 2.5 hours, it was time to leave. We all knew we had a long trip home. Hugs and kisses and “hasta luego” and we were out the door. Sor Delia and the children crowding around the small opening, waving to us as we drove away.

This vision is still with me as we continue our drive home. We are still 2 hours away and it has been pouring with rain intermittently which is slowing us down. That and the frequent trucks that clog this central highway are making the trip even longer. We are all anxious to get back, have a decent meal and a very needed shower. Despite the very long drive – and Mauricio is stll at the wheel – I am very glad that Sr. Debbie and James have seen San Fernando. With their first hand knowledge, they can help me help Sor Delia and the children.

Children at the door

Children at the door

Second Day – Sr. Debbie’s agenda

It’s 7:00pm and I’m exhausted. Ok, so it’s really 9pm EST back in the real world, but we had a busy day and I’m pooped.

We started our day with a meeting with Johanna at CARITAS. We were pleasantly surprised when she provided 3 months of paperwork, receipts and photos for both the HIV+ children sponsored by the OHP plus other programs coordinated through MoH. It was a pleasant surprise to find someone with organizational skills.

Johanna at Caritas

Johanna at Caritas

We agreed on how to handle this in the future so that information is received regularly and funds can be given each month to continue aiding these families.
Meeting at Caritas

Meeting at Caritas

Party at Caritas

Party at Caritas

Next we took a long drive up into the mountains again to the Parajito Azul Vinca (or farm). This farm is built on a piece of donated property that houses 15 – 18 mentally disabled men aged 25 – 52. Sr. Debbie explained that most of the men had been born without issues but due to malnutrition, untreated illnesses or abuse, they had varying degrees of disabilities.

Martha and her boys at the farm

Martha and her boys at the farm

Martha Rivas

Martha Rivas

Martha Rivas, is the driving force behind this flourishing enterprise where they have made significant changes in the property and now grow and harvest coffee, papayas and over 720 tomato plants from seeds donated by the MoH. Martha takes care of these men helping with cooking, medical needs and cleaning – kind of like a house mother but she obviously cares for them and has made this her life’s devotion. All of the men are handicapped in some way but their enthusiasm and big smiles were infectious. Some were shy, some very friendly but this place was obviously a success story and a we were all smiling when we drove away.

On the drive, we stopped at a roadside stand to purchase fresh pineapple, just picked from the tree. Cost? $2.00. I gave the woman $3.00 and felt like I’d gotten a bargain.

I'll take 2 pineapples por favor

I’ll take 2 pineapples por favor

Next a visit to Diriamba (we spent a lot of time in the car today) and a visit to a future community center run by the Nuns who also manage a hospital in the area. We were there to see what project work the upcoming summer missioners could help with when they are here in July.

On the trip back, we made a brief and unexpected stop back at El Crucero to give Joseph a suit sent to him by his sponsors Jimmy and Carol Dumont. While only a short visit, I was happy to stop by to see the children again but as they clung to me and asked me to not leave, I left with a familiar lump in my throat.

Joseph and his new suit

Joseph and his new suit

Returning to NiCasa, Sr. Debbie held meetings with the local woman who helps administer aid in the surrounding towns and barrios while James and I took pictures of the facility. I have become the official photographer on this trip and have a lot of work to do with the hundreds of pictures taken.

We had a very nice surprise in our restaurant of choice this evening – recommended by James. It is a very upscale Italian restaurant in downtown Managua, not like any I’ve been to before. Contemporary, with plenty of air conditioning, excellent service and good food, it was a nice way to end the day.

Sr. Debbie and Fabricio at dinner

Sr. Debbie and Fabricio at dinner

Tomorrow we are off to see Sor Delia and the children at San Fernando. I’m looking forward to the trip, even though it will mean about 4 hours of travel time each way. I keep encouraging Sr. Debbie to see the day and our lunch along the way as an adventure but she insists she won’t eat at any place by Tip Top chicken! In addition to not being too adventurous with her meals, she also hates bugs and spiders. Since they are all over and drawn to every light, she’s been screaming about the bugs in her room and is threatening to sleep in the van. We shall see if we find her in there tomorrow morning. WE have an early start and are leaving the compound at 7am.

May 29, 2013

First Day – El Crucero

Well, it’s official. Nicaragua has the loudest thunder I’ve heard. Hardest rain I’ve ever heard too for that matter. As I sit, listening to the cacophony of torrential water slamming against the tin roof of the NiCasa building, I wonder if it will ever stop. It started about 2 hours ago and hasn’t let us since. Sr. Debbie and James are flying into this. I can just imagine Sr. Debbie’s white-knuckle death grip on James’ knee.

I’m here at NiCasa alone. When Mauricio and Fabricio left, after I said, “sure – no problem, I’ll stay here by myself”. At the last minute I asked Fabricio “I’ll be safe here, right?” and his assurance that sure, yes I would was enough to not let me regret the opportunity to spend some time alone, re-acclimatizing in mind and body to Nica.

So once they left, I started to stroll purposefully and unafraid to the kitchen area to forage for something to eat. I left my room and rounded the corner of this big concrete building, rain thundering down on the roof, all alone except for anonymous guard – and then, the lights went out. Ok, so it’s a conspiracy. Somebody is trying to make me be afraid. Aha I say – not me! I’m don’t roll that way and so I grope my way back in the pitch black (did I say PITCH BLACKNESS) to pull out one of the battery operated lights Sor Delia had requested for orphanage in San Fernando. Once found, I resume my search for something to eat and by the time I get down to the kitchen, the lights and the power resume. So there I think – I refuse to be intimidated!

Mauricio hasn’t changed a bit and is still the friendly, stalwart Nicaraguan man that I remember. I’d rely on this man in a hurricane. Fabricio, all of 22 now is smiling and helpful and just a little enigmatic introduces me to Ariana, his friend that he as brought along after my request for an extra pair of hands and translator for our visit to El Crucero, scheduled for our afternoon meeting. After lunch at Tip Top, (Nicaragua’s Kentucky Fried Chicken quick food) we are headed into the mountains.

Stalwart Mauricio

Stalwart Mauricio

As I start to collect my scattered thoughts so I can put them down in this blog, I acknowledge, it’s been a day – a good day. Up at 2:45am to catch a 5:20am plane out of Newark, my flight uneventful, I am deposited in Managua at 11:30am. Right on time. By now, I feel as if I know the ropes and maneuver my way through getting my luggage, through customs and then waiting for my ride. All without issue. After 15 minutes or so of waiting, I finally see Fabricio – and the additional translator I had requested named Ariana – and am pleased that I don’t have to come up with a back up plan if no one shows up o get me. Since I didn’t have a back up plan, this is a very good thing. Mauricio hasn’t changed a bit and is still the friendly, stalwart Nicaraguan man that I remember. I’d rely on this man in a hurricane. Fabricio, all of 22 now is smiling and helpful and just a little enigmatic introduces me to Ariana, his friend that he as brought along after my request for an extra pair of hands and translator for our visit to El Crucero, scheduled for our afternoon meeting. After lunch at Tip Top, (Nicaragua’s Kentucky Fried Chicken quick food) we are headed into the mountains.

Me and Fabricio

Me and Fabricio



The rain that is still thundering as I write this, hadn’t yet started but was definitely threatening as we drove up the mountain. Heavy overcast skies, seemed to turn the air into thick, grey soup. We arrive at El Crucero to be welcomed by 2 nuns that I remember but not their names and then are greeted with a warm hug by Madre Griselda. She hasn’t changed a bit either – it must be the air and humid climate here – it’s absolutely a preservation miracle.
Saying hello

We discover upon entering the compound that today they are holding a Mother’s Day celebration for the local village children and their mothers. My kids – meaning the OHP children – are intermingled with about 100 people all watching various children perform on stage in native dress to fast, pulsing Latin beat. We watch for a while as they take turns performing. The children are obviously delighted and it is fun to watch but mindful of my own agenda, we leave to go speak with Madre about stuff. Ie: what’s happening at El Crucero.

We spend an hour discussing all of my agenda points. Did I just say Agenda Points? What am I – back at Citigroup? I am well aware that “agenda points” in not in the vernacular here and kind of laugh at my ridiculousness. I have to remind myself to stay to the point, don’t veer off course and don’t get hi-jacked into discussing things that aren’t relevant. Since I am only making a single trip per year, I need to get the information I need. Or so I tell myself anyway. While we are talking, Ariana is making the rounds and taking pictures of the facility. My only instruction to her – other than how to use the camera – was just take pictures of everything and everybody. We could sort the photos out later.

I am pleased to note that photos of the facility show improvements in the dorm rooms and most especially in the new roof over much of the complex – a donation from another NGO. Madre tells us about the situation at El Crucero – they have a good, steady food supply now, either by donations or supplementation with the OHP monthly funds we provide – and that is a big relief. Something that was one of the very original goals of the OHP is now status quo. The children also have regular medical care provided by a doctor that visits monthly and to my surprise, DAILY visits by a psychologist who sees every one of the children on a regular basis. Since most of these children have some type of childhood trauma – abandonment, abuse – sexual or otherwise, malnutrition, – this focus on their mental and emotional health is a very welcome piece of information. We then discuss the children, those with special needs – not as many as their once were but still too many – and the future prospects of both the older girls and the boys. Some of the older girls have been moved to the orphanage at Juigalapa – the facility that is light years ahead of the others in terms of accommodations and supplies – and I am told that all of the girls are doing quite well there. As for the boys, who I am concerned will be in limbo once they reach puberty – (orphanages run by Nuns that consist mainly of girls aren’t particularly conducive to having teen age boys around for obvious reasons) and am told that they have been offered yet another facility that they may use to open a orphanage for boys. No decision yet however, so this is up in the air.

Madre then takes us to view the new library or Story Room as they call it. I was delighted! It is a big open room with beautifully painted murals on the walls, a ring of small chairs just screaming STORY TIME and wall to wall books. Sor Andrea, the nun who had previously been at the Managua Casa Cuna/ Juan Pablo orphanage is in charge here. When we walked in the room, she was there smiling and obviously very proud and at home. A little background here is that this Sister is the one who used to be responsible for the smallest of the children at the always hot, sticky, overcrowded and small orphanage located in the bowels of Managua. On a block lined with rundown buildings and prostitute and drug dealers bookending the stgreet, she was a testament to the faith that drives these women to do what they do. It was truly a difficult place – and I am understating the description by a mile – to live and work. I saw her each time I visited and she never smiled. Never. The only enjoyment she seemed to get was the education she imparted to the little ones before they were transferred to El Crucero once they were old enough for formal school. Each 4 and 5 year old knew how to read before arriving there; all due to Sor Andrea’s efforts. So to see her smiling and so obviously in her efforts melted my heart and brought a lump to my throat. After my genuine exclamations of joy to see this room filled with books (I love books), I went to her, held her hand and asked if she was happy to be here in this place with all these books available for the children. Fabricio did a masterful job of translating for me but my real intention was for her to feel, through the grip I had on her hand, how happy I was for her AND the children. Truly a blessing all around.

The new library with Sor Carmen and Madre

The new library witha smiling Sor Carmen and Madre

Short facility tour over, we set to the chaos of getting new pictures of the children and giving out gifts. Thanks to both Fabricio and Ariana, this was accomplished in a slightly less chaotic fashion than in the past but once the word spread to the children – who were still in the throws of all the activity from the Mothers’ Day celebration and residual villagers still around – that we had gifts, they started hovering. I was very pleased to talk to each one of the children individually (with Fabricio’s help translating of course ) and saw so many of the kids that I have seen each year.

Me with Mileydis, Carlos, Sara and Joseph

Me with Mileydis, Carlos, Sara and Joseph

Sara, Mileydis – my smart-as-a-whip little friend, Wendy and Maria the two sisters, Kenneth, Carlos, Alexis, the three musketters and of course my Allison, all bubbly and smiling and missing her two front teeth.
The hug I was waiting for

The hug I was waiting for

Me and Allison

Me and Allison

They are all so big but I do a fairly good job of getting their names right despite the fact that they have all changed. And then the new girls Xochital who is 9 and so small from malnutrition that she is more like a 7 year old, beautiful but hesitant Estefany a teenager with secrets behind her eyes, and Priscilla, yet another young girl with a childhood history that she doesn’t deserve. Did I tell you again what a delight it is to be with them? Truly truly this is my gift for any small efforts on my part to help them. They are all at once bubbly and shy, friendly and reserved and then once they see that my intentions are good, my hugs are genuine and I will kiss everyone that I find in my arms, they relax and the chaos truly begins. Pictures taken, gifts given out and a disappointing number of children not available for pictures and we are almost done.

The afternoon has sped by and it is close to 3 hours since we arrived. I know the others are tired and the evening is getting close. The air has been oppressive and it feels as if we are actually in the clouds – which we probably are – since the sky has been gloomy and threatening since we arrived. I am glad that I had seen Allison at the beginning of our visit because she is nowhere to be found now. Of the one day that I am there for this entire year, her mother, Haydelina is also here in honor of the Mother’s Day celebration. Knowing that their relationship is truly bitter sweet but that Allison will want to spend as much time with her as possible, I find out later that she has taken Allison home for the weekend and I miss my opportunity to talk to her or even say goodbye for another year. I am happy to have had the brief hugs that I had earlier and tell myself to just let it be. I don’t have to see her to love her. I know she cannot know this but I will keep coming back so eventually, she will.

The kids – especially the boys – want to know when I am coming back. When? What month? They want specifics and I am surprised but not really since they ask the same thing every time I am there. The boys always wanting a promise and a date. Since I don’t have one, I start to choke up and say “No se” or “I don’t know” – which they accept, with a puzzled frown – how come I don’t know?? – and then I ask for big hug from them all.

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye

A flurry of hugs and flying pony tails and hair in my mouth as I am kissing each one and hugging them all. I take a special moment to tell Mileydis – she is so bright and so special and deserves so much more – that she is special and smart and that if she studies real hard and does well in school, I will be sure that she goes to University when she is old enough. This is no ideal promise, I will make this happen if only, IF ONLY, she can make that far without falling into the same trap her parents and most of the parents of these many children have done. She needs a skill and/or an education that will give her the ladder out of this rural poverty. She cannot be just another girl who will have a child while still a child, crushing her opportunities. She is special to me this one, as they all are, but she is more so. I want her to know this and hope that in some small way, she understands and believes me.
The children

Me and the children

Once in the truck, I am quiet: absorbing, de-compressing, thinking. As always, Nicaragua, and especially these children – my children – cause an onslaught of emotion, ideas and hopes. Have I gotten satisfactory answers to my concerns regarding vocational skills, internet use, and opportunities for the older girls? Yes but no and I hope that the new promise of a new Sister – Sor Carmen – to communicate with will facilitate these issues further. But I know that I am up against – and I say this with reckless American determination – a culture that does not and will not change overnight. If I can help save just a few of these children from the future that is looming – the no-escape, no alternative future – I will be happy. But satisfied? No, never. Not until all of them have a means to reach their fullest potential and bring their country with them. The rain is still coming down in torrents. That’s 3 straight hours. I have no internet so will have to wait until tomorrow to try to post this once Sr. Debbie and James are here and can help me sort it out. I’m still alone here – just me and the bugs that have flown in while I tried to get some air into the stillness of my room – and I realize that day one is done.

Returning to Nicaragua 2012

I will be returning to Nicaragua on August 31 – September 4. It will be a short but packed trip. With two travel days on either end, we only have 3 days to accomplish everything I want to do.

I will be traveling with our friend Chase Vasale. He will be helping me with photos and video of the children, part time translator and full time child entertainer. The little boys will LOVE climbing on him.

We have added two new orphanages to the OHP program. These are two small orphanages that are part of the same organization as the two current ones – El Crucero and Juan Pablo. I am anxious to meet the new children and the nuns at these facilities. I will also be able to see for myself how many children are at each – getting current information is still very slow and painful – and also assess the facilities themselves to see how we can help.

I will be blogging regularly while there, at least while I can. There will be times where we will not be within internet range. The two orphanages are way out in the country, far from Managua, the capital. Chase and I are looking forward to the adventure. Nicaragua, for all it’s sadness and poverty, is a beautiful country full of lush green jungle and people who live a much, much simpler life than I. I am looking forward to meeting them along the way.

Stay tuned….

Mission #4 – July 31, 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The next morning was Sunday and mass at 7am. I had not been to a Roman Catholic mass in a long time. As I have said, the chapel is truly beautiful and I was looking forward to attending despite my own beliefs about the religion. All of the children were in attendance as were the Nuns, Mariel, Elena and I. The beautiful part of it was you could tell that the children wanted to be there. They seemed to find a sense of tranquility and safety here as was evident by their participation. It was a real treat when one of the Nuns began to play the guitar, Madre played the tambourine, and everyone began to sing. The little boys kept time by banging the pews on beat with the music, using them as an impromptu drum. I smiled at Carlito while he was banging away and he returned huge grin. Although I couldn’t follow the words, the mass was similar to my own Episcopal services so I didn’t feel out of sync. And while I didn’t understand the priest’s sermon in Spanish, when everyone began laughing at something he said, it was evident that he had a sense of humor. This was refreshing and I was glad to see that religion need not be “mucho serioso” all the time here.

After mass and a breakfast of scrambled eggs (yes, real scrambled eggs made by Sor M&M!) we left for La Finca, taking Allison with us. The drive was pleasant and I saw different areas of Nicaragua that I had not seen or known before. We drove through a city on the way, Jinotepe I think, and stopped briefly at a large church there. Madre spoke to someone and then hopped back in the truck. As we moved out of the city and back into the country, closer to the farm, we stopped to pick up three more nuns. We were already packed into the truck so two of the nuns sat on Madre in the front seat and the other squeezed in with the 4 of us in the back. Apparently these were the same nuns that lived at La Finca and they had walked into town for Sunday mass. They were easily 2 miles away from church when we found them on their return walk with another 1 mile to go; can you imagine a 6 mile trip to attend mass? That’s impressive!

Allison & me

The main farm building was not what I expected. It was large, open and spacious. And while it was not new, it did not seem to be in the same state of disrepair so evident at el Crucero. The nuns living area in the center of the building was pristine and the surrounding areas had terracotta floor tiles swept clean and large windows.

La Finca building

Allison had recognized three nuns and went happily off with them. Madre then took Mariel, Elena and I out for a tour. What I saw brought a huge smile to my face. This was a working farm! There were many types of produce and fruit being grown in orderly and well tended gardens. There were hundreds of tomatoes plants staked with strong branches and string, squash, peppers, rows and rows of red beans, watermelon, pumpkin, corn, and guava, mango, orange, mandarin and spice trees. And a few fruits I’d never even heard of! I was amazed and told Madre so.

Hundreds of tomato plants

She said that there biggest problem was not enough manpower to harvest and in the past, they had local workers do this for a 50/50 split of the produce. Her new plan was to hire a local family that they knew that would live and work at the farm, tend it and harvest it Then the Nuns would sell the produce at local markets and supermarkets. With this much produce; this would surely reap good profits. This woman was a dynamic business woman as well! I told her this and she laughed and hugged me.

At one point, Madre stood holding a shovel that consisted of a strong tree branch and a shovel head tied on with twine in one hand and talking on her cell phone on the other. The incongruousness of this made me laugh out loud.

Madre and shovel at La Finca

We worked our way back to the house, stopping to see what was left of the animals that the boys hadn’t sold out from under them. A herd of something that looked like a cross between a sheep and a goat ran by and there were also a bunch of chickens walking about eating what they found on the ground.
Once inside the house, the Nuns served us a refreshing cold drink (they had a working refrigerator) made of juice from one of the nameless Nicaraguan fruits on the farm. This was the same small yellow fruit that Madre had asked me to take a bite out of while we were walking. I did so and although I didn’t eat it, I didn’t mind the taste. The fruit drink was very good.

Mariel, Madre and mangos

Mariel and Elena went off to collect guava and mangos to bring back with them. I took this opportunity to take a walk by myself back up in to the fields. As I walked, I discovered Allison with one of the Nuns and our driver, trying to get some small fruit down from a large tree. After throwing sticks at the fruit, the driver climbed into the tree and began shaking the branches. As the fruits fell, Allison squealed with delight as she ran around helping the Sister to pick them up and put them in the bucket. I left her happily helping.

Allison collecting fruit

Farther up I encountered a pathway created by rain runoff with an army of ants marching up, each one holding a small piece of a leaf. There were thousands of them going by, oblivious to me or anything else. They were so industrious and I stopped to watch.

Marching ants

The tranquility of this place had seeped in and I felt a peace that I hadn’t known in a while. The sky was a beautiful blue, large white clouds and a comfortable temperature provided a different picture of Nicaragua. There was so much potential here; and it seemed that Madre was well on her way to reaping the benefits that would help them all. I let the peace of the place and the knowledge that good things were happening restore me.

Chapel at La Finca

Spending more time than I realized, I returned to find everyone waiting for me. We said “adios” to the 3 Sisters and piled back into the truck. After about 30 minutes, we arrived at the coffee farm in Masatepe. This was an added bonus as we didn’t know we would be traveling here as well. Madre had some business to take care of here but before she did so, she gave us a tour.

This facility is where the Novices come to study to be a nun. It is also a retreat center used by visitors who pay to do so, a coffee bean farm, and the local church. It was clearly self-sustaining. The retreat area was lovely with plants purposely planted for beauty and appeal, a gazebo to enjoy the gardens and immaculately tiled floors on the walkways. There were numerous buildings including a large chapel/church that was beautifully maintained as all chapels in Nica seemed to be.

Retreat Gardens

Madre left us to walk around, while Allison was again happy to play with people that she knew. Two of the young woman that had been at El Crucero and at Juan Pablo were there, Olga and Iveth, and she was happy to accompany them. Apparently, the nuns, the children and young adults all moved between facilities frequently.

Mariel, Elena and I walked through the coffee bean trees. I found it fascinating as I had never seen coffee growing before and the small green beans, not yet ready for harvest, covered every tree. The plants were strong and healthy-looking and well tended. I asked Madre later on about selling coffee which I know she planned to do. I also asked if she would have decaf available since this was not easy to find and she said yes. She explained that her brother had a coffee farm and he had given her guidance on what was needed. I know we will be able to help her sell this when it is harvested.

Coffee beans

We were served a lovely lunch of chicken, rice, cabbage slaw and plantains. After a while, Madre came to collect us and we started our return trip to El Crucero. Once there, Madre told us the driver would bring me back to the MoH compound and would also drop off Mariel and Elena. We went to get our bags and I began to say goodbye to the children. I didn’t like this part at all.

Unfortunately or fortunately, there weren’t many of them around but a few of the ever present little boys were. Kenneth, a serious little boy with pretty eyes and a shy smile, came up and put his arm around my waist and demanded to know when I would return. The tears I was trying to hold back started to come anyway and I choked out a “no se” as I really didn’t know when I would be returning. He wasn’t happy with that answer and started to press me further. “Enero?” January? “Febrero?” February? Again I told him I didn’t know as my mind reeled with chaos. When could I return? I just wasn’t sure but I didn’t like to think about not seeing all of them for a long period of time. Of course, I couldn’t convey any of this to him so I smiled down at him, squeezed him hard and kissed his forehead.


Sor M&M had been busy making cards with the children to give to their sponsors. I had given her a list matching each child up with their sponsors. In a few cases, due to attrition and non-renewals of sponsorships this year, there were some children without sponsors listed. I intended to re-shuffle sponsorship assignments when I returned home as we now had a number of new children to add to the program, but in the meantime, Carlito didn’t have a sponsor next to his name. Sor M&M questioned me about this and when I started to say, I would be assigning a new sponsor, I stopped and looked at Carlito’s hopeful little face. When I saw what began to be a crestfallen disappointment, I knew I needed to come up with a better answer. Luckily, Mariel solved the problem by volunteering that her mother Rita planned to sponsor a child and the issue was resolved. Carlito was very happy to know that his Madrina’s name was Rita.

Madre had suggested that I not say goodbye to Allison as this would most likely upset her. Not so much because I was leaving but because she wouldn’t be. I understood this of course but was disappointed not to be able to give her a kiss and hug until next time.

The truck was waiting and the three of us began to walk over to the main house to say goodbye to Madre. Sor M&M was going to follow shortly as she was still working on the cards. She seems to enjoy making them and was painstakingly cutting out flowers when I left her.

Madre was waiting by the door but she was not going to make the ride with us as it would only be a waste of what was left of the afternoon. I was not looking forward to saying goodbye to her either. As we hugged each other, Elena translated for me as I told her that I was so grateful to have been able to stay with her and so happy to see all of the progress that she had made. I promised that I would continue to try to help as much as we could. She then surprised me and said “none of this would have possible without my help”. Now, I know this is absolutely not true as she has been a whirlwind of progress and determination since February however, I was touched that she felt I had helped. I was full on crying when we hugged again.

Sor M&M arrived with the promised cards and I said another difficult goodbye. It is very possible that she will not be at El Crucero when I return next year and I may never see her again. This reality was in the back of my mind and I hugged her and the tears that had stopped, started up again. She smiled her beatific smile at me and we hugged one last time and I jumped in the truck. I will trust to God as to where our paths will lead us but she will be one of those people that I will never forget.

I said goodbye to Mariel when we dropped her off; she too will not be here when I return although I am sure we can keep in touch. I thanked her for all the good she has done the children; it has been a real blessing to them. Elena rode with me to the compound so she could instruct the driver and I said goodbye and thank you to her as well as I got out.

Once in the compound, a few people asked about my latest visit and I was happy to tell them. My agenda on these trips is such that I operate outside of the norm and this is puzzling to some people. I appreciated the opportunity to explain what I do and why I do it and especially what my goals are for the children.

After a very welcome shower, I sorted out my packing as I would be leaving with Sr. Debbie for the airport early the next morning. Later that evening, I sat with the group at our nightly meeting and my mind drifted to everything I had experienced on this trip. I was feeling much better than I had anticipated. Originally, I had been anxious about coming as I had begun to feel that we were making little progress. But now I felt that progress was indeed being made after all. (Vince had said just this to me before I left, I should have listened to him.) Most of the progress was due to Madre’s efforts but in a small way, I hope that we have helped also. This re-energized me for the work I would do when I returned home.

And I was ready to return home. The next morning I was packed and ready by 7am and we left at 8. I rode in the back of the truck (love that!) and enjoyed the sunshine and breeze while having some alone time to say goodbye to Nicaragua for a while. Hasta luego! I took a cab from the Caritas building where Sr. Debbie had her next meeting so that I would arrive at the airport with enough time.

Once at the airport and through security, I sat at the gate for a few hours which I didn’t mind at all since they had free wireless – who knew? I was even able to Skype with Vince for a little bit. I boarded my plane to Houston and without any complications arrived in Newark at 10:30pm later that evening. I was very happy to hug my husband who was waiting for me. And one of the first things I asked him was – will you come back to Nicaragua with me the next time I go?

Me and a little one

Mission #4 – July 30, 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Friday morning and we are off to build home shelters. I had done this on my first mission trip with Vanessa in February 2010 but didn’t think I would get to participate this time. We all bounced along in the back of the pick up truck; the Mission volunteers and the family and friends of the people that would get a new home shelter that day. I love riding in the back of the truck; it’s not exactly something you have the opportunity to do back in the States. The blowing wind cooled things off for a little while at least.

Riding in the back of the truck

We arrived at the first home shelter site and hiked up the hill. We met the young mother who was to receive the home shelter and was there to help along with her two children. Right next to where the new foundation of concrete blocks had been set was the structure they were all living in now. I took a family “before” picture of their current shelter with it’s rusted aluminum sheet walls, plastic bags and bits and pieces of wood holding it together and would later take another picture of them in front of their new home.


And after (with Colleen, home shelter sponsor)

The mother and her young son were helping the others build while we did a lot of watching. This felt very uncomfortable however; I understood that the reality is, most of us would just be in the way. At least I know I would. I was happy to help carry things around but I know from past experience that banging the hell out of those nails still doesn’t send them into that Nicaraguan wood! It is incredibly hard and dense. So I kept myself busy by looking for any children that might be nearby.

In a shelter next door, there was a young boy, about 2, playing in the dirt. I went over to him and knelt down to say hello. He had one of the dirtiest little faces I have ever seen; literally covered in dirt as was the rest of him. He had a wary look in his eyes so I smiled and asked if I could take his picture. When I showed it to him afterwards; he broke into a fit of giggles that surprised me and made me laugh as well. He thought the picture of himself was just hysterical and I was pleased that this small thing could make him so happy.

Sweet dirty little boy

His laughs brought other children over and before I knew it, I was snapping one picture after another, just to make them all laugh. I might not be helping too much with the home shelter but at least I had done something that made these little people happy for a time.

Happy children

Diana, our 13 year old translator was a real treat. I had met her at the compound and her English was so good, that I actually asked if she was an American. There wasn’t a trace of an accent. Since I knew we would be without a translator on our home shelter expedition, I had asked if she might be allowed to come and she was thrilled with the opportunity. During a lull in the action, Diana and I talked about her dreams for the future. She shared some things about her family, in particular information about her mother which led us into a conversation about the types of choices Diana would make for her future. I reminded her that whatever choice she did make, it was hers to make. She had the right to say “no” and to choose when she wanted to have children. I encouraged her to work hard in school and to go on to university. But in reality, she needed little encouragement from me as she already knew that she wanted to study medicine and become a doctor. Although she wanted to visit the U.S., she planned to return home to Nicaragua to practice medicine with her people. I felt very heartened and hopeful that this young woman was an example of the next generation that will bring positive change to her country.

After the second home shelter was completed, we rode back in the bed of the truck again but this time it started to rain and rain hard. Within a few minutes, we were all soaked through, our hair and faces streaming with water. I thought it was all pretty cool since the rain washed off the sweat and dust and cooled us off. Since we had a one-shower per day limit at the compound, I felt getting drenched by the rain as a good thing.

Diana had done such a fantastic job translating, that I called Sr. Debbie to ask if she might come with us to Juan Pablo later that afternoon. I knew that I would be talking with Sor (Sister) Andrea and the language barrier would be a real problem. Diane was delighted when we received word that this special request had been approved. I suggested that she continue to offer her services to the MoH, especially at the medical clinic and she said she would be happy to.

Once back, I dried off and re-grouped since I had to pack to stay overnight at El Crucero once again. I needed only to bring a few things plus my notebook and folders but it always takes a while to make sure I have it all. So I was late for lunch – again. Bev, a true lunch-lady of the kindest sort allowed me to get some food. I appreciated her help AND that she didn’t scold me. I was pretty tired of being scolded about one rule or another. I seemed to be continually breaking them despite my efforts at compliance. There are A LOT of rules on mission and a lot of Type “A” personalities that feel the need to enforce them.

About 6 of us drove to Juan Pablo with Chico the driver in one of the rented vans. When we arrived, Sor Andrea let us in through the iron barred gate that was a necessary security protection. She seemed to remember me and greeted me cordially. Sor Andrea is not the warmest of the sisters I have met on mission but she has an incredibly hard job that I cannot imagine doing. She is responsible for the children 24/7 in a hot, old, small building populated with up to 30 children all under 7. There are two other nuns who help plus some of the older girls from El Crucero. Still, it is unimaginable to think of doing this – what goes through her mind when she wakes in the morning? She is kind to the children though and does a wonderful job of teaching them so by the time they move up to El Crucero for school, many of them are already reading at 5 years old.

Sor Andrea

Juan Pablo was quieter than I had ever seen it. Since it was Saturday, the day care children that are dropped off during the week were not there so only the “internals”, the children that lived there permanently were there, save one little boy dropped off for the day.

I immediately looked for Allison and found her sitting in a small chair. She was unusually quiet and a little shy when I greeted her and although I think she knew who I was, she didn’t talk to or engage with me. I left her alone so that she might get used to all of us being there and Diana and I went off to give out some of the beautiful handmade dresses that Bev had given me before we left. Then I wanted to talk to Sor Andrea about the children and the status at Juan Pablo. The other ladies that had come with me were all enthusiastic about playing with the children and before I knew it, they were all mostly on the floor keeping the children occupied. I was happy to see this as there wasn’t much going on before we got there so I presume that this play time would be the highlight of their day.

Playing on the floor

When a street vendor went by selling ice cream, I ran out and bought ice pops for everyone, children, the missioners and the nuns. We all enjoyed the cool treat although the littlest ones needed to be washed from head to toe when they were finished as they were covered in sticky, melted ice pops!

I had brought a large floor puzzle that kept them everyone busy and when I was done talking to Sor Andrea, I began taking pictures of the children. Orquidia Guadalupe or Lupe, my daughter Vanessa’s sponsor child looked so pretty in her new dress, as did Rosita, the little fireball and Allison who had gotten involved in the activities. Also there was Josue, Rosita’s little brother who had gotten so big since I last saw him and Jose, a new baby that was only 5 weeks old. His 17 year old mother was also staying at Juan Pablo.

3 new dresses

I asked if I could take a picture of the two of them together and although she said yes, she refused to look at the camera. When I showed her the picture, she smiled but I saw the tear tracks that ran down her face. My heart broke as I realized that she might be embarrassed to have her picture taken and I reached over to stroke her face and tried to tell her it would be all right. I had known in advance that she was there and knew also that her story was difficult. I wanted to do something to comfort her though and with Diana’s help talked to her a little about her plans for the future. I encouraged her to go back to school and to finish her studies. She didn’t seem to think this was necessary but I persisted until she smiled in what I hoped might be agreement.

Aracelli and baby Jose

I made a tour of the facility, looking at the kitchen and living areas. At this point, I had been there enough times that I felt I could go into these private areas; I was looking for improvement and areas that needed help. Unfortunately, I was not pleased to find that there were cockroaches in the kitchen and the refrigerator was not full of food.

Madre Griselda was scheduled to meet me at Juan Pablo at 4pm to pick up me and Allison but she surprised me and arrived early. The others from Mission left with Chico and Madre and I began our attempt to have Allison come with us. But she seemed to sense that something was going on, because she had become sullen and quiet and was sitting in her chair quietly clutching her little bag. Madre asked her if she wanted to come and then the drama began.

She ran to the back room and into her bed crying and wailing that she didn’t want to go; she wanted to go home to her mama. I let Madre talk to her as I didn’t think I would be much help; it was the Nuns she knew the best. Madre was so patient and gentle with her; not once did I see her get angry at what was effectively a temper tantrum, no matter how understandable. This attitude of kindness and patience is something I have seen over and over again and it amazes me. I’m a mother an know how challenging and trying children can be; these women never seem to lose their patience. Incredible.

In the meantime, I asked Sor Andrea if I could bring Allison’s things – clothes or toys – with us. She said she had nothing to bring. The impact of this would hit me later, after the drama had subsided, as I realized that this little girl did not own a thing. No toys, no clothes, not anything that did not belong to the communal whole. The unfairness of this infuriated me although I realized that it was a consequence of institutional living but I didn’t have to like it.

Allison was not calming down so drastic measures were called for. Arelyis, the mother of Rosita and Josue had to physically pick her up and put her into the truck, while Allison was screaming all the while. Madre had also decided to bring Rosita with us in an effort to placate Allison but also because Rosita would be moving back up to El Crucero in the near future as well. She, Allison and Lupe were all the same age and would begin school soon.

Once in the truck, Allison continued to whimper although the screaming and the tears had stopped. It is very difficult to communicate with an upset child when you don’t speak their language very well so since I couldn’t say anything that would help, I started to sing quietly instead. I sang all of the verses of Mary had a Little Lamb three times and the Mockingbird song (you know the one, Mamma’s gonna’ buy you a mockingbird…). And when I ran out of words, I made them up. I don’t really know if it helped but it didn’t hurt. We played with the few random toys that we had brought with us and eventually, both girls started smiling.

Smiles at last

By the time we left the city and started driving up the mountain, Allison and Rosita were both eagerly looking at the window at the scenery. While Rosita had been back and forth quite a few times, Allison had not made the trip as frequently so it was exciting for her; I could see it in her face. This made me happy since the whole point of making this change was to give her new experiences.

Once we arrived at El Crucero, Madre went about her business and I went with the 2 little girls to the dormitory area. But first, Allison ran around the courtyard in the brilliant sun shine whooping with delight. The picture of her big smile and her hair flying as she ran is frozen in my mind. This is what I wanted her to have, a chance and a place to run.

By now, the other little children had come to greet the 2 girls and they were running around in a pack. The rest of the afternoon passed and as I walked with the various little children to another building (there are multiple buildings in the compound), I was surprised to see Mariel and Elena. While I knew they were there on Saturday, they had not planned to stay overnight. However, the older girls had begged them to do so and I found them all watching a movie on Mariel’s laptop. I was happy to see them and really happy that we would now have Elena as a translator.

After dinner with the older girls and Sor M&M, I was asked to come see a special Powerpoint presentation that Mariel had helped the girls prepare for me. Each of the slides had a picture of one of the children followed by their age, birth date, favorite hobby or sports team and their dreams for the future. Each child read their own bio out loud and it was sweet to see who would read shyly and who didn’t. I really enjoyed it and told them all I was very proud of them. I then asked them to prepare one for me for my next visit that included how they planned to make their dreams come true.

That night, after the children had gone to bed, I sat in the other room writing in my journal. Sor M&M joined me and we had a conversation using my little yellow Spanish-English book when we got stuck on a word. Since Sor M&M has no English and my Spanish is limited, this was quite often. I asked about her family and her health and felt that our conversation was between two friends that were getting to know each other a little better. She then talked about her vocation and her belief in God, or El Senor as they refer to God, and how she was always searching for answers. I told her that I found my answers to God in helping the children. She smiled at that.

Allison had settled in for bed although she had asked me numerous times when she was going back to Juan Pablo. I told her “No se”, or I don’t know, which wasn’t true but we had decided to hold off on telling her the full story for a little while longer. So we lay in the small bunk – wow, was this thing hard! – and I waited for her to fall asleep. Once she did, she tossed and turned only a little but a few times, she rolled right into me and bonked me in the head. Little children sleep the same way all over the world.

Sleeping and dreaming

Mission #4 July 28, 2011

July 28, 2011

I left for El Crucero on Thursday morning around 8am. I asked my driver Hiro, to stop at the food store on the way so that I could buy food to bring with me. As we made the 40 minute trip, I watched the landscape change from the city to the mountainous countryside and I realized I was finally flying solo. I was on my own adventure now and would need to rely on my own initiative. I was supposed to meet both Mariel, the volunteer psychologist working at the orphanages for MoH and Elena the translator at El Crucero later in the morning, but this was my mini-mission. I was in a third world country, no one was guiding my actions but me and I was equal parts excited and anxious.

Alison was not coming with me. She had told Mariel that she didn’t want to go to El Crucero, she just wanted to go home. Allison is struggling greatly at the baby orphanage – Juan Pablo (aka Casa Cuna), as her mother is now dropping off her new baby brother and while he gets to go home at night, Allison must remain at the orphanage. Needless to say, this is devastating to her as she faces an almost daily rejection by her own mother. She has been acting out and misbehaving which is not at all usual for her. I am even more anxious for her to go to El Crucero permanently for this reason among many others. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t see her but certainly wasn’t going to force her to come. I would make other arrangements to see her.

I arrived at El Crucero around 9am, it was still pretty early but I was happy when I could read the pleased look of recognition on Madre’s face as she realized who I was. She immediately called me by name and came to embrace me. It was a warm feeling. I had only met this woman in February and while I had stayed there then, a lot of time had passed in between.

The driver and one of the novices (there are 6 young woman studying to become nuns that also live at El Crucero), helped to bring in the food, gifts, clothes and other donations from the back of the truck. As we brought the food into the kitchen area, Madre laughed and opened the refrigerator and freezer door to show me what was inside. I was amazed to see it was full of food! Completely full! I was thrilled to see this and it brought tears to my eyes. I found out later that one of the many things she has accomplished in the last few months is to make arrangements with 4 or 5 different food stores and providers that supply weekly donations of food – milk, meat, cheese, eggs, bread, fruit and vegetables – all the items that we have wanted them to have. She had made some amazing progress and I thought this an auspicious start to my visit.

A full refrigerator!

Madre was very busy, as she had 70 adults attending a school reunion and after initial pleasantries and stumbling through without a translator, I told her I was fine and that she should go take care of whatever she had to do. I used this time to walk around the compound, hoping to greet any children I might find. It was during school hours so only a few were outside, mostly the little girls and boys. Nadezna came running to greet me with a big hug. She was followed by Mileydis, and the sisters, Maria and Lupe (Wendy Guadulupe). Then the little boys, Alexis, Carlito, Kenneth and little Kevin ran over to me and hugged me as well. They weren’t completely sure who I was, but I think they realized that they had seen me before and I looked familiar and fun. I have found that the children are demonstrative; showering you with hugs and kisses. I realize that in some part, this is due to their own emotional issues of abandonment and lack of family – they are always eager for attention and affection – but they are also really sweet children, genuinely happy to see you.

Guadlupe and Nadezna

After a while, the older girls started to appear and as I greeted most of them, I could see that they were very pleased that I remembered their names. Silsa, Veronica, Katherine, Jessica, and Naome encircled me with hugs and kisses. This was what I came for. “Recuerdome?” I asked them, “do you remember me?” and they nodded yes. Then they made a game of helping me to remember the girl’s names I couldn’t remember by giving me clues of the first and second letter of their names to help me guess. We all laughed as I sorted them out.

My lack of Spanish was hitting me really hard and I was frustrated that I had not yet mastered the language. After a while, the girls went about their own business as our semi-conversation wound down. So I wandered around, taking pictures, looking for other signs of progress and eventually ended up in the chapel as it is a quiet and beautiful place. Amidst a facility that is falling down in many places, this lovely chapel is a quiet oasis, maintained with love by the Sisters. While the disparity of this situation is difficult to comprehend – where does the money come from to keep this place pristine when the children have a leaky roof and decrepit plumbing? – I forced myself once again to not judge by my own American-girl standards. I was in their place, these were their priorities, and I was a guest. I would have to help them on their own terms or not at all.

The chapel at El Crucero

I saw Sr. M &M and went to greet her. Her big smile and sincere hug were another warm welcome as it was evident we were both happy to see each other.

Sr. M&M and Kevin, her nephew

Mariel and Elena arrived but immediately went into Mariel’s scheduled sessions with the children. She is now meeting with quite a few children on an individual basis to council and help with their emotional issues. She is definitely making progress. She also is working with the children in groups and helping them work together and learn skills to help themselves. But Mariel is leaving in October and I am saddened that this resource will be taken away from the children. I can only hope and pray that what they have learned from her, they will retain and take with them into their own futures.

Me, Elena and Mariel

The Sisters invited us to lunch of chicken, rice and a delicious cucumber salad. What a meal ! and a far cry from previous meals of rice and beans. Their food situation had turned around completely and I was delighted. We talked a little with Madre and the other Sisters and they seemed genuinely happy that we were there. It is always uncomfortable to have them wait on us and serve us, but they insist upon it; Nicaraguan courtesy.

Eating with the Nuns

Later that afternoon, the three of us, Mariel, Elena and I had a 2 hour meeting with Madre to discuss all of the children. Some of the children are no longer at the orphanage and some new children were added. Most of the reasons that children were no longer in the program were not good ones. A young baby named Enrique had gone back to live with his 19 year old mother despite the fact that she could not care for him. The Nuns were unhappy with this and are trying to encourage her to do better. Two of the older boys that lived at the farm had dropped out of school and were following an all too typical path of drinking and delinquency. Without the Nun’s knowledge, they had sold the two goats and the ox leaving them without working farm animals. Both unfortunate signs of a culture with deep rooted problems that cannot be resolved over night.

Our conversation turned to my Allison. Madre told me that she thought Allison was coming with me as she was unaware that Allison didn’t want to come. I explained this to her and then asked again, when we might be able to bring her to El Crucero permanently. She surprised me by saying that her plan had been to do this while I was there. Not wanting to let this opportunity to make this pivotal change in her young life – El Crucero might not be perfect but it is a better environment than Juan Pablo where she is now – we decided upon another plan. On Saturday, I will meet Madre at Juan Pablo and together we will all drive back to El Crucero. Her suggestion is that the “novelty” of my bringing her will over-ride her apprehension about going there. I am not completely sure that this will work out this way and fully expect that Allison will be upset however, we are all in agreement that this is the best move for her. Her two young friends who are also 5, Rosita and Orquidia Guadalupe (my daughter Vanessa’s sponsor child), will come up soon after so that they all can start first grade in January. But in the meantime, I’m sure there will be separation issues. I hope that our best intentions are the right decision. I believe in my heart that they are but I ache knowing that she will be distraught for a time.

I also found out that the surgery that Allison’s mother has been unable to facilitate due to her own problems is not as major as I had been told. This was welcome news and the hope is that living at El Crucero will make the surgery and necessary post-surgery orthotic shoes a reality. Another wonderful thing that Madre has put in place is that soon, a doctor and a dentist will visit the facility WEEKLY to check the children and the nuns. This woman is incredible. She has done all of this by networking and pushing to improve the lives of the children. I think no one can say “no” to her.

The additional part of our plan is that after staying over again on Saturday night with Allison, we will all go to the Farm, La Finca, on Sunday. I had wanted to go for a while to see what possibilities might be there for income and vocational training so this was a welcome surprise. Mariel and Elena will come up on Sunday morning to join us but for Saturday evening, I will really be on my own. Oh I wish I could speak Spanish! Juan – I should have kept studying!

Dinner of rice and beans but also the delicious Nicaraguan white cheese that made it all taste great. Dinner conversation with Madre and the other Nuns revealed the other advances she had made. Security guards are now present 7 days a week now and it was no longer necessary for the Nuns to patrol the grounds at night dressed as men, although she still had the gun. The electric transformer had been replaced by the Power company at no expense to them and an NGO was coming to inspect the old and dangerous wiring and make repairs. The children were receiving dancing and sewing lessons. And lots of food! A lot of progress in only 5 months time – what would this woman accomplish in a year!

I was exhausted and when I started to yawn at the dinner table, Madre teased me about going to bed. Mariel and Elena stayed in the main building to work on homework and I crossed the dark courtyard to the girl’s dorm alone. The night sky was very black with a wind that promised to become stronger as the night went on.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the light on in the girls dorm as there had been no electric when I was there before. Another wonderful accomplishment. After washing up in a cold bucket of water – there were no improvements to the bathrooms unfortunately – I sat on my bed while the older girls congregated around me. I took out the pictures I had brought to share with them; Vince, my girls and of course our new puppies, Sage and Gwena. I had more pictures of them than my family and the girls got a big kick out of them. They are the cutest puppies in the world after all.

The Girls Dorm

Lying in my bunk bed, with my sweatshirt as a pillow, I struggled to fall asleep even though I was tired. My brain was reeling from all that had been said and done today and from seeing all of the children once again. I felt more comfortable this time and eventually feel asleep, warm and content despite the ache in my hips from the rock hard bed.

I woke early at 5am and lay in bed for an hour listening to the quiet breathing of the girls. It was much quieter here than the Mission compound. Eventually, I heard Sr. M&M moving around in her small room off of the dorm area. When she came out, dressed in a robe and without her habit, her short black hair pillow-tumbled from sleeping, I could almost forget she was a nun. But her grace and her clear path to her own expression of faith shine from her like a beacon and her vocation is unmistakable.

Katherine, Mileydis, me and Lupe

I got up and dressed while most of the girls were still asleep, Mariel and Elena who were in bunks right next to me, included. Sr. M&M and I greeted each other with “Buenas Dias” and broad smiles. Eventually, the little boys could be heard singing and laughing next door and then everyone was up and awake. There was no school today due to a Teacher’s conferences so they had been able to sleep a little later than normal until the 6 and 7 year olds gave them no choice but to get up. Not unlike a normal family only with a lot more children and Nun’s for parents.

Breakfast was delicious pineapple – Nicaragua has the BEST pineapple- and cold cereal. Gratefully, no rice and beans. At 8:30, we had our meeting with Sr. Debbie and Mauricio to sort out some communication issues regarding the Orphan’s Hope Project. Most of these were due to growing pains of the OHP process and after an hour and half, we had covered this and other important priorities. Agreement was reached and I felt we had accomplished our goals. One major decision was made that would expand the use of the monthly funds we are providing to the Nuns via the OHP program. This is due to the fact that Madre has been so successful in obtaining donors for food. As these donors can be inconsistent, food purchases are still the priority however, we gave her the option to use the funds for other items such as personal hygiene, additional educational supplies and other items when needed. The monthly accounting receipts that are provided to us give us a listing of how the money is spent. We were all content with this change and see it as positive development.

I said goodbye to the children and knowing I would see them again Saturday made it quick and relatively painless. I rode with Sr. Debbie and her entourage the rest of the afternoon, the highlight being our meeting with the Caritas organization to discuss the HIV orphans that we plan to add to the Orphan’s Hope Project. We learned that there are 50 children and that the only information we will have is their first names due to confidentiality concerns. Because of this, we will not be able to set up individual sponsorships but instead, ask for sponsorships for the program as a whole to help with expenses for the children. We learned that only 5 of the children were in school as they did not have the funds necessary to go, something we wish to focus on. But at least they were all on the anti-viral medicine that would help sustain and prolong their threatened lives. I asked a lot of questions – of course – and got as much information as I could so I will be able to communicate the issue and the need once I return to the U.S.

Afterwards, we were able to meet with a number of the children and their families who were there to pick up supplies. Sr. Debbie had brought 7 beautiful hand-made small quilts to be given as gifts to the children. Because we were not allowed to photograph their faces, again due to confidentiality issues, I took pictures of each child, wrapped in their new quilt, from behind. It was a poignant moment for all of us as we contemplated the lives these children live.

HIV Orphan and her new quilt

I approached one young girl seated in a chair at the front of the room and knelt down to speak to her. Nancy was about 9 and had a beautiful face. I asked her if she had family there and she said no. She didn’t smile and her large brown eyes had an expression that was much too old for her young body. I have never known anyone who was HIV+, nor anyone who had died of AIDS, but if this is what it looks like, it is a terrible thing made even more so in a young child with no real life to look forward to. It was heart-breaking. Anything we can do for them, we should do and would.

A hectic afternoon followed of shopping and stops that Sr. Debbie needed to accomplish and we were back at the compound for dinner. I am sitting in the kitchen area as lights out was 30 minutes ago. Now that the internet is working, I will post this very soon. Unfortunately, it’s not wireless so I can’t do more than make a quick post but it is better than none at all.

If I can blog again on Sunday when I return from El Crucero and La Finca, I will do so. That’s of course if I’ve got any brain power left – this is all such a grand adventure – it fills me up and sucks me dry. Thanks for reading about it.

Mission #4 – July 27, 2011

July 27, 2011

I arrived Tuesday after an uneventful plane trip. My sister Jeannie had driven me to Newark airport the evening before and we stayed overnight at the hotel so I didn’t have to drive to Newark at 4am for my 5:30 am flight. I so appreciated her driving me and we enjoyed staying overnight and watching a Disney movie together. Yep, sisters. I said goodbye to her at 3:30am, took the shuttle to the airport and 8 hours later, found myself standing in the Managua airport waiting for my ride.

I waited for about an hour and was beginning to wonder what my back up plan was if no one came to pick me up (I didn’t have one) when Bonnie and my ride arrived. She was a welcome sight. It was good to see Bonnie; she goes on every large mission and keeps everything running smoothly, or as smoothly as possible in Nicaragua. We then met up with a nurse, Anna who is here on her first mission but plans to return in October to stay for a year. She will replace Mariel, the psychologist who works with the children at the orphanages when she leaves in October. Anna will have a different focus however and I’m not looking forward to losing Mariel as my only consistent and reliable source of communication with the Nuns regarding the children. We have to get the internet working. It is one of my primary goals this trip.

After dinner, I was in bed early. The two hour time difference and the heat – it is SO hot here – knocked me out and I fell asleep relatively easily for a change. I was excited this morning to find out that I was to go with Sr. Debbie for our meeting with the Caritas organization to discuss the 70 HIV orphans that we hope to add to the Orphan’s Hope Project. But 10 minutes before we were supposed to leave the meeting was cancelled due to an emergency with the archbishop. After my initial frustration, I decided to just give it up to the heavens and wait to see what happens. This is very typical for Nicaragua and I lesson I keep telling myself to learn.

So instead, I did rice and beans. This meant that we spent the morning bagging rice and beans (two 100 pound bags of each one) into smaller bags to be taken out on a Rice and Beans walk in the afternoon. The two women I worked alongside, Missy and Alexandra made it a pleasant experience. After lunch, we gathered up all that we had packed and headed out into the country.

The person guiding us was a Nicaraguan woman who has been helped by the mission in the past. She was the recipient of a home shelter built for her and her family and she has maintained involvement with the mission since. It is local people such as Maritza that are instrumental in helping to determine where the aid the Mission provides will go.

We drove by van to an area made up of the ramshackle, rusted tin roof huts that I have seen many times before on my trips here. Think of it as a housing development made up of shacks.

Family livingroom

We moved from one home to another, always greeted by smiling faces and excited children.

The Family Pet

Unfortunately, we did not have toys for the children, only the rice and beans bags but they were enthusiastic none-the-less. A number of the people with me were young high school students and hesitant about approaching the people. I however was not and marched right up to them practicing my limited Spanish, asking names, how they were and if I could take their pictures. All complied and after that, the others seemed to realize that we weren’t just handing out free food; we were there to interact with the community. These poor people – and I do mean poor – were always polite, friendly and happy to see us.

Grateful family

One of the women we met was an 84 year old woman named Elizabeth. She rattled excitedly in Spanish, despite my “no comprendo” and “no hablo Espanol” comments . She hugged me and Anna a few times and seemed very excited that we were there. She accepted her rice and beans gratefully and then proceeded to follow us as we walked around the neighborhood frequently chatting and hugging us.

Anna, Elizabeth (84) and me

Some of the homes were in better condition than others. Some of the people had attempted to improve their areas; some going as far as sweeping the dirt – or so it seemed it was so smooth and neat. One woman had planted flowers all around her home and I asked our translator Steven to tell her that we thought her house was very nice and well-tended. She smiled a big, shy smile and seemed pleased to hear that we had noticed. I took a picture of her with her two young daughters.

Mother and Daughters

Other homes however, were not so well kept. Outside sinks for washing dishes and clothes, wood stoves next to the homes with fires burning. Barefoot and dirty children scrambled everywhere, chasing each other and laughing seemingly oblivious to their situation. This also was not new to me as I had come to realize that these children knew no other way of life and without a frame of reference, didn’t realize there are alternatives. I was pleased to see school uniforms hanging on the barbed-wire clothes line though; at least some of them went to school.

School uniforms on the barbed wire line

We gave away most of our supply and then headed back as a thunderstorm was pending. It is pouring with rain as I write this in the evening and the sound of the crescendo on the tin roof is comforting. I also hope it might cool things down, even in the evenings it is very hot. Our dorm room – shared with about 30 other women – is warm but the ceiling fans move the air and make it bearable. I am happy to report that the roosters and barking dogs can’t be heard from this new compound – a very pleasant change.

Tomorrow I am up very early to try to post this online and send a few emails. I have been totally without internet and if you are reading this, then I was finally able to gain access. It is not yet connected at the compound so I have had to make a trip up the road to the other but don’t worry Vince, I was driven both up and back. Bill has been valiantly trying to get the internet set up for the past two missions but it continues to stubbornly refuse to cooperate. Poor Bill! He has about 100 other things to take care of and he has worked so hard on trying to get the internet connection up and running so he can check this off his list. He’s really a great guy, so dedicated and humble. We could all take a lesson from him.

I am going up to El Crucero tomorrow although my original plan to be picked up has fallen through and I have to make other arrangements. I will stay over until Friday when I will meet with Madre and Sr. Debbie to further define the Orphan’s Hope Project and straighten out a few miscommunications. One of my main goals is to focus on ways to use the computers that have been in limbo without electricity. Now that they have it, or at least will once they analyze and repair the wiring at the facility, I want to be sure that we can get the internet up and running. I also want to discuss technology lessons and the many possibilities this will present to the children and the nuns. Syed – I hope that you and I can finally begin to develop a plan for this.

This has been a long-awaited goal of mine and something I have wanted since beginning this project a year and half ago. This accomplishment would reaffirm my belief that we can make a difference and show it in concrete and positive ways.

After I leave El Crucero on Friday, Sr. Debbie and I will meet with the Caritas organization regarding the HIV orphans. We have already been informed that we will receive only scant information on these children; no names, pictures or other details. So while I will add them to the OHP program; I will not be able to encourage any communication with future sponsors. The stigma here in Nicaragua regarding HIV is huge so the children’s privacy is paramount. We will be able to meet with a few of the children at their homes so at least we will have a first-hand account to pass on. We have already been told of one family with 7 children, 1 died and 4 are HIV positive. I cannot understand how having this many children cam happen; don’t the parents know or realize they are passing HIV to their babies? Perhaps the government should spend less on political rallies and more on HIV and Sexual Health education. I am sure meeting the children and their caretakers – whether parents or otherwise – will be another eye-opening experience and deeply disturbing for me.

I’ll close for now and since I don’t know the next time I will be able to post to the blog, stay tuned…

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